Army Staff Sgt. Ricardo Branch is set to lose his job after emailing classified information in 2014 that former President Barack Obama revealed during a publicized speech in 2011.
The incident occurred in February 2014, when Branch, then a public affairs officer for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), reviewed a proposed article by Boeing for the company's internal news service, the Washington Times reported Sunday.
The article discussed SOAR personnel visiting a Boeing unit in Mesa, Arizona, and revealed the regiment's role in transporting Navy SEAL Team 6 to Pakistan for the 2011 raid to kill Osama bin Laden. Branch reportedly recognized that the Pentagon had never officially acknowledged SOAR's role in the bin Laden operation and emailed his superior saying Boeing should delete the sentence.
Branch also wrote the sentence in an official .mil email.
Because Branch forwarded the sentence, which contained sensitive information, in an unclassified email, an investigation was launched and he was ordered home.
A superior officer had seen the email and notified Army intelligence. About two months later, Branch agreed to a nonjudicial punishment known as an Article 15 hearing, during which he received an oral reprimand and thought the matter was done.
The Army transferred Branch to South Korea. But then the service in 2015, pressured by budget cuts, sought to reduce personnel and identified blemished soldiers through the Quantitative Management Program. Branch was identified as a blemished soldier because his Article 15 resulted in a one-time poor performance evaluation, and the investigation was relaunched.
Branch received high marks on all prior and subsequent performance reviews, according to the Times.
Branch appealed to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to nullify his single bad performance mark, but the board twice refused. The sergeant was desperate and went public, appearing on the Fox TV station in El Paso, Texas to tell his story.
The Criminal Investigation Command then launched a probe into Branch and cleared him of wrongdoing, but that ended his service extension.
Branch, who is now stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, has just over a week to persuade the Army to change its decision or he will lose his career. On Friday, Branch's commanding officer handed him a "counseling letter" that permanently revoked his security clearance and "served as his termination notice," the Times reported.
Branch is being punished for emailing in 2014 the same sensitive information that Obama revealed three years earlier in a publicized speech.
Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden discussed SOAR's connection to the bin Laden raid in 2011, days after the operation, when they visited Fort Campbell, Kentucky and personally thanked the "Night Stalkers," in private, for their role. The Army subsequently published a story on the meeting on its website, Army.mil.
Another article from May 9, 2011, an Army New Service Story published on Army.mil, reported on the Obama visit.
"It was the Night Stalkers who are credited with flying the mission in Pakistan that transported the Navy's ‘Seal Team 6' on an operation that resulted in the capture and kill of terrorist Osama bin Laden," the story said.
Branch told the Times that the military service "doesn't want to take responsibility" for Obama's prior remarks on the sensitive information in question.
"The Army just doesn't want to take responsibility for the fact that Obama told 2,000-plus Fort Campbell soldiers in a public forum after the private meeting with SOAR," Branch said.
"In 2011 it was on the Army home page," he added. "It makes no sense to dismiss me from service. Policy dictates that anything published on the Army home page has to be properly vetted through various organizations. Obama visiting Campbell and talking about the bin Laden raid is considered mission and operational security info, [which] means it has to get vetted. It's still on the home page today."
The Times noted that Branch's actions were "far less serious" than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of an unsecured private email server to communicate sensitive information.